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Abstract

Spinal bone mineral density (BMD) measurements and calcaneal ultrasound were compared in terms of their ability to predict the strength of the third lumbar vertebral body using specimens from 62 adult cadavers (28 females, 34 males). BMD was measured using dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) in both vertebra and calcaneus. Quantitative computed tomography (QCT) was used to determine trabecular BMD, cortical BMD, cortical area, and total cross-sectional area (CSA) of the vertebral body. Bone velocity (BV) and broadband ultrasonic attenuation (BUA) were measured in the right calcaneus. Vertebral strength was determined by uniaxial compressive testing. Vertebral ultimate load was best correlated with DXA-determined vertebral BMD (r2 = 0.64). Of the QCT parameters, the best correlation with strength was obtained using the product of trabecular BMD and CSA (r2 = 0.61). For vertebral ultimate stress, however, the best correlation was observed with QCT-measured trabecular BMD (r2 = 0.51); the correlation with DXA-determined BMD was slightly poorer (r2 = 0.44). Calcaneal ultrasound correlated only weakly with both ultimate load and stress with correlation coefficients (r2) of 0.10–0.17, as did calcaneal BMD (r2 = 0.18). Both spinal DXA and spinal QCT were significantly (p < 0.001) better predictors of L3 ultimate load and stress than were either calcaneal ultrasound or calcaneal DXA. Multiple regression analysis revealed that calcaneal ultrasound did not significantly improve the predictive ability of either DXA or QCT for L3 ultimate load or stress. Calcaneal DXA BMD, bone velocity, and BUA correlated well with each other (r2 = 0.67–0.76), but were only modestly correlated with the DXA and QCT measurements of the vertebra. These data indicate that spinal DXA and spinal QCT provide comparable prediction of vertebral strength, but that a substantial proportion (typically 40%) of the variability in vertebral strength is unaccounted for by BMD measurements. Ultrasonic measurements at the calcaneus are poor predictors of vertebral strength in vitro, and ultrasound does not add predictive information independently of BMD. These findings contrast with emerging clinical data, suggesting that calcaneal ultrasound may be a valuable predictor of vertebral fracture risk in vivo. A possible explanation for this apparent discrepancy between in vivo and in vitro findings could be that current clinical ultrasound measurements at the calcaneus reflect factors that are related to fracture risk but not associated with bone fragility.